MONTREAL — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered reassurances on the safety of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine on Monday as the list of European countries suspending its use due to safety concerns grew.
Germany joined others in Europe pausing their use of the AstraZeneca vaccine over reports of blood clots in some recipients, even though European regulators say there's no evidence the shot is to blame.
Trudeau said Health Canada regulators are constantly analyzing all the available information about vaccines and have guaranteed those approved in Canada are safe for use.
"Health Canada and our experts and scientists have spent an awful lot of time making sure every vaccine approved in Canada is both safe and effective," he said at a news conference in Montreal.
"Therefore, the very best vaccine for you to take is the first one that is offered to you."
The prime minister told reporters none of the AstraZeneca doses Canada has received are from the batch linked to possible side-effects reported in Europe.
Quebec Premier Francois Legault told the same news conference that provincial health officials see no risk associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine. "All the vaccines that are offered are without risk," he said.
The European countries' decision to suspend AstraZeneca's vaccine comes as Canada's national vaccine expert panel is expected to update its recommendations on whether use of the vaccine should be expanded.
Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization initially recommended that people 65 and over be prioritized for the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, which had more evidence of how they work on seniors, rather than AstraZeneca's vaccine.
The chair of the committee, Dr. Caroline Quach, told The Canadian Press last week it was discussing newer evidence of how the AstraZeneca vaccine worked for seniors in "real-world" use and said an updated statement could be expected soon.
AstraZeneca said on the weekend that a review of 17 million patients who received the shot in Europe and the U.K. shows no elevated risk of blood clotting.
Trudeau was in Montreal to tour a mass vaccination centre and make an economic announcement alongside Legault. He said he was happy to see seniors getting their shots, noting that his mother, Margaret, received her vaccine last week.
He said he wasn't sure when he would get his own COVID-19 vaccine but would happily take it when his turn comes.
Several provinces were expanding their vaccine rollouts on Monday, including Ontario, which launched its COVID-19 vaccine booking system for those aged 80 and up.
The online booking system went live at 8 a.m., and the site showed more than 8,000 people in the queue for an appointment a few minutes later, with an estimated wait time of about an hour.
In Quebec, the province's booking site expanded its list of potential vaccination sites to include some 350 pharmacies in the Montreal area, which are expected to begin giving COVID-19 vaccines next week. The province is currently vaccinating people 65 and up in Montreal, and 70 and up elsewhere in the province.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 15, 2021.
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press